Friday, October 02, 2009

It's official: Rick Perry wants to burn in Hell

"That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved."
-Benjamin Franklin, 1785

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a death penalty opponent. I believe there are some crimes, and some criminals, that are simply too heinous to be dealt with in any other way available to society at this time. In light of that, the death penalty should be applied with utmost caution and respect for the gravity of said punishment. Texas Governor Rick Perry apparently believes a skewed reversal of that maxim applies to after-the-fact investigations of Cameron Todd Willingham's execution for the arson deaths of his three children--better to cover up the wrongful execution of an innocent man than to jeopardize a reelection campaign. That heavy-handed intervention has invited a scathing editorial from the Dallas Morning News:
Since Perry signed off on the Willingham execution in 2004, his own accountability is at stake. So perhaps it's no surprise that two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to proceed with the case this week, Perry replaced the chairman and set things back.

This has the stink of avoidance for political reasons. It sends the message – intentional or not – that the governor was displeased with the speed and direction of the inquiry.

Critics are on the mark in comparing it to President Richard Nixon's "Saturday night massacre," when he replaced top Justice Department officials as they were tightening the noose in the Watergate case. Perry's heavy hand suddenly has that creepy Nixonian feel.

Perry has put forth the simplistic argument in the past that 1) Texas doesn't execute innocent people; 2) if someone was executed, then they were obviously guilty; 3) if you have evidence to the contrary, please see clause 1. And according to Perry, scientific experts aren't really "experts" unless they deliver reports supporting the governor's preferred conclusion.
But Gov. Rick Perry has not let expert reports or modern science shake his belief that Willingham must be a murderer. So certain is the governor that he's delivered his own guilty verdict without bothering to wait for the Forensic Science Commission's own conclusions in the case.

Perry flippantly dismissed the findings of "supposed experts." Just in case his sarcasm wasn't evident, he added air quotes with his fingers to dismiss the nationally respected scientists.

The governor says he's seen nothing that would cause him to question this capital murder conviction. That's disappointing.

Perry, of course, is telling the truth. I'll wager dollars to donuts that he hasn't so much as skimmed the Forensic Science Commission's conclusions or related reports simply so he could hold onto this flimsy thread of plausible deniability. What's the definition of a tyrant? Someone who'll do anything, damn the consequences, to hold onto power?

Here's some additional reading on the topic: Texas Governor Defends Shakeup of Commission,
The governor was in office when Mr. Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004. He denied the condemned man a reprieve even after a detailed report by an arson expert said the evidence that Mr. Willingham had set the fire was flimsy and inconclusive.

and the New Yorker piece that brought it to national prominence:
Todd Willingham, looking on, appeared to grow more hysterical, and a police chaplain named George Monaghan led him to the back of a fire truck and tried to calm him down. Willingham explained that his wife, Stacy, had gone out earlier that morning, and that he had been jolted from sleep by Amber screaming, “Daddy! Daddy!”

“My little girl was trying to wake me up and tell me about the fire,” he said, adding, “I couldn’t get my babies out.”

While he was talking, a fireman emerged from the house, cradling Amber. As she was given C.P.R., Willingham, who was twenty-three years old and powerfully built, ran to see her, then suddenly headed toward the babies’ room. Monaghan and another man restrained him. “We had to wrestle with him and then handcuff him, for his and our protection,” Monaghan later told police. “I received a black eye.” One of the first firemen at the scene told investigators that, at an earlier point, he had also held Willingham back. “Based on what I saw on how the fire was burning, it would have been crazy for anyone to try and go into the house,” he said.

As a father, I'm horrified by the very idea of losing my children this--or any other--way. But to see how Willingham went from tragic victim to railroaded scapegoat is beyond the pale. Remember, Rick Perry's the same person who's pandered to secessionists in recent campaign events.

Perhaps he does not fear Hell because he has no soul?

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